Air Aces of World War One

Captain Lionel Henry Wilmot Brabazon Rees V.C. – British Ace – 1884 / 1955

Rees was born at 5,Castle Street, Caernarfon, on the 31st of July 1884, the son of Charles Herbert Rees, A solicitor and a honory Colonel in the Royal Welsh Fusiliers and his wife Leonora. Rees attended Eastbourne College before entering the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich in 1902. He was commissioned on the 23rd of December 1903 into the Royal Garrison Artillery and was posted to Gibraltar. He was promoted to Lieutenant in 1906, he moved to Sierra Leone in 1908 and in May 1913 was seconded to the Southern Nigerian Regiment.

Rees was commissioned as an officer in the Royal Garrison Artillery, a branch of the Royal Regiment of Artillery in 1912. Rees like many others learned to fly at his own expense, receiving his Aviator’s Certificate No.392 in January 1913.By 1913-1914, Rees was attached to the West African Frontier Force when he was seconded to the Royal Flying Corps in August 1914, initially as an instructor at Upavon. He was promoted to Captain in October 1914. In early 1915 he took command of the newly formed No.11 Squadron at Netheravon and in July they moved to France. His first action came flying the Vickers Gunbus with No.11 Squadron in mid 1915, he soon earned a reputation as an aggressive pilot and an above average marksman.

Rees was awarded the Military Cross for his actions in 1915, gazetted as follows: For conspicuous gallantry and skill on several occasions notably the following: On the 21st of September 1915, when flying an aircraft with one machine gun, accompanied by Flight Sergeant Hargreaves, he sighted a large German biplane with two machine guns 2,000 ft below him. He spiralled down and dived at the enemy, who, having the faster machine, managed to get him broadside on and then opened heavy fire. Despite this, Rees pressed home his attack and apparently succeeded in hitting the enemy’s engine, for the machine made a quick turn, glided some distance and finally fell just inside the German lines near Herbecourt. On the 28th of July, he attacked and drove down an enemy monoplane despite the main spar of his machine being shot through and the rear spar shattered. On the 31st of August, again accompanied by Flight Sergeant Hargreaves, He fought a German machine more powerful than his own for three quarters of an hour, then returned for more ammunition and went out to the attack again, finally bringing the enemy’s machine down, apparently wrecked. By this time he had claimed one aircraft captured, one destroyed, one ‘forced to land’ and five ‘driven down.’ Rees returned to England at the end of 1915, where he took command of the Central Flying School at Upavon. In June 1916 he took No.32 Squadron to France.

Rees was 31years old and on detached service from the Royal Garrison Artillery to the Royal Flying Corps on Flying Duties as a temporary Major in No. 32 Squadron when the following deed took place which earned him the Victoria Cross. In the first hours of the Somme Offensive, Rees was on patrol, taking off in Airco DH.2 No. 6015 at 5.55 hrs. His attempt to join a formation of ‘British Machines’ brought an attack from one of the Germans. He shot up his attacker, hitting its fuselage between the two aircrew. As it dived away, Rees attacked a Roland. Long range fire from three other Germans did not discourage Rees from closing on it; it emitted a hazy cloud of smoke from its engine from the 30 rounds Rees had fired into it and it fled. Rees then single – handedly went after five more Germans. A bullet in the thigh paralysed his leg, forcing him to temporarily break off the assault. As the shock of the wound wore off, he was able to pursue the German formation leader, which was leaving after dropping its bomb. He fired his Lewis gun until it was empty. In frustration, he drew his pistol but dropped it into the D.H,2’s nacelle. Meantime, the German two-seater pulled above and away from him. The German formation was shattered and scattered Rees gave up the futile chase, and returned to base. Once landed he calmly asked for steps so that he could deplane. Once seated on the Aerodrome grass, he had a tender fetched to transport him to the hospital.

The valour of his actions earned him the Victoria Cross, Its citation reads; On the 1st of July 1916 at Double Crassieurs, France, Major Rees, whilst on flying duties, sighted what he thought was a bombing party of our machines returning home, but were in fact enemy aircraft. Major Rees was attacked by one of them, but after a short encounter it disappeared, damaged. The others then attacked him at long range, but he dispersed them, seriously damaging two of the machines. He chased two others but was wounded in the thigh, temporarily losing control of his aircraft. He righted it and closed with the enemy, using up all of his ammunition, firing at very close range. He then returned home, landing his aircraft safely. He convalesced for a while due to his injuries from the 1st of July action, and went on a War Office mission to the United States, becoming a temporary Lieutenant Colonel in May 1917. For the remainder of hostilities Rees commanded a School of Aerial Fighting at R.A.F. Turnberry.

(C) Damian Grange 2021

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